Friday, April 07, 2023

Gisele & Beatrice by Feroumont

I came into this book with entirely the wrong expectations - I saw a "Rated M" book tagged Romance, looked at the cover of two women actively sucking face, and figured it was the relatively straightforward story of two women in love.

Reader, that is not the case at all. Explaining the difference would be a massive spoiler, but I can note that I tagged this book "Fantasy," and stipulate that I don't mean the sex kind of fantasy. (Or not entirely; that's not inappropriate for this book.)

Let me start from the beginning, and see how far I can get before spoilers pop up.

Gisèle & Bèatrice [1] is by the Belgian [2] creator Feroumont; I've seen the given name Benoit attached to Feroumont elsewhere, but the book uses the single-name standard for French-language comics. I believe this is the same Benoit Feroumont who has worked extensively as an animator. It was originally published in 2013; the English translation is by Alison M. Charette and came out in 2017.

Bèatrice is a hard-working young woman in some kind of office, surrounded by men - we don't see any other women there, though it seems to be the present day. Her boss, George, is about to give a big promotion - which we believe, and Bèatrice insists, is rightfully hers - to a ratlike suck-up named Jones, and Beatrice complains. George, who is a massive caricature, says he'll fire her unless she sleeps with him, and points out that none of the men in the office will ever support her (entirely true) story of sexual harassment, so she has no other options.

She agrees to a date with George; George comes back to her apartment afterward. And then a fantasy element emerges suddenly, and the book changes direction entirely: it is now about Bèatrice and her new live-in maid Gisèle, and follows something like the path I might have expected at first. should I put this? Bèatrice is not substantially nicer in her pursuit of love than George was. This book does aim to be the love story of Gisèle and Bèatrice, but I found it much more like the Stockholm Syndrome story of those two: Bèatrice is demanding and controlling, ruthlessly turning Gisèle into the woman she wants.

Gisèle & Bèatrice is amusing and entertaining, even as this reader decided he didn't like any of the characters or their world. It goes a long, long way to make a fairly obvious point: so far, in fact, that it destroys that point along the way. Feroumont has an energetic, cartoony line, and may be too good at drama for this story: it gets heavier than it probably should.

In its favor, this is a deeply weird, particular book. It commits to telling this particular story, and it races forward from its premises. I said it went too far, but that could be seen as a plus as well: books that fearlessly go as far as they possibly can are rare, but this is definitely one. As I said up top, it is rated 'M' for Mature, and for the reasons the cover implies.

In the end, I'm not sure I can actually recommend Gisèle & Bèatrice, but it is definitely an interesting book that grapples with big issues, even if it does so in massively over-the-top, cartoony ways.

[1] Between the time I read this book and the time this post went live, the English-language edition has disappeared from the usual online mega-retailer. So this link does not work; I leave it in in case it starts working again in the future. There is a Spanish-language edition available there, and obviously the original French version can be found various places. Here is the publisher's page, and the GoodReads page. I'm seeing broken links to the English-language edition on other retailers as well, which could mean all kinds of things: maybe Europe Comics has licensed it for print publication (which is their goal) and we're in the between-times, maybe the rights term just expired (suddenly?), maybe some claim that it's pornographic (it isn't) is working its way through some system.

[2] I have made the executive decision to use the tag "246 Different Kinds of Cheese" for the entire Belgian/French comics industry. It's not entirely accurate, and I apologize to any Belgian people who may be offended at being seen as an appendage of France, but I do have to stop adding further tags at some point, and this is that point.

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